Rustication as Religion

Rachel Sager "Rustication as religion" mosaic

November 2011, commission for Ashley Judd

47”h x 37”w

Materials: Western Pennsylvania sandstone, Sinnemahoning creek driftwood, vintage Italian smalti, unglazed porcelain tile, 24-karat gold smalti, slate, shale, fossil-rich sandstone, stone concretions, on quarter-sawn native Pennsylvania oak frame

Artist statement

I am very excited to share with you Rustication as Religion, a large-scale mosaic commissioned by the actor and activist Ashley Judd for her farmhouse in Tennessee. Ashley’s love of nature and her deep faith and spirituality helped me to create this mythologized landscape.

One of the definitions of rustication is ‘to go into or reside in the country; to follow a rustic life.’ Living in a technological world that insists on our constant connectedness, many of us find solace in the escape to the elemental truths of nature. In many ways, I see the modern environmental movement of the western world as a replacement for the past passions of religion. In this piece, the halo on the crow symbolizes the religious history of mosaic as an art form. The circle has historically represented the psyche, the ultimate wholeness of life, or the union of nature and man. Symbolism and allegory have been an effective way to communicate ideas since man first painted horses on cave walls and I find them to be just as powerful a tool for me today.

This piece is full of surprises, many of which cannot be detected in photography. The Sinnemahoning Creek driftwood from which I built the tree offers natural crevices wherein I could tuck and hide bits of colorful smalti and other unexpected materials. The stone wall is built from Pennsylvania sandstone. If you look closely, you can see that each stone in the wall has its own shade of color. I chopped different rocks into pieces and then reassembled them by color creating each section of the wall. One of the miracles of natural stone is its seeming drabness at first glance. It’s often not until cracking it open that one sees the gifts of subtle color distinctions.